Rookie Corner 395 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
View closed comments 

Rookie Corner 395

Cows and Bulls by Madcap

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

Prologue. As usual, the setter will be delighted to receive feedback from you, the solvers. I do ask that you remember that for most setters this is a new experience, so please only offer constructive criticism.

A review by Prolixic follows:

Madcap returns true to his name with a puzzle that was inventive and excellent in parts but when he went off the rails with the clues, he did so spectacularly.  The commentometer reads as 5/29 or 17.2%.


1 Inside Dolce & Gabbana, the mass-markets are perceived as objects of loathing (9)
ANATHEMAS – The answer is hidden (inside) the fourth to sixth words of the clue.  There have been lots of comments about the length of clues.  This is a matter for the style of the setter.  However in this clue the words “Dolce &” and “markets are perceived” are padding and should have been avoided.  Whilst you may see one word added to hidden word clues, the amount of padding here is not acceptable.

6/26 Bulldoze first of bungalows by terrace and then flatten (8)
BROW BEAT – The first letter of bungalows followed by a three-letter word for a terrace and a four-letter word meaning flatten.

8 Centrepieces of torture show clubs introduce S & M (8)
THOUSANDS – The middle letters (centrepieces) of torture show clubs before (introduce) the S from the clue and a three-letter word represented by &.  Perhaps introducing would be a better link word for joining A and B.

9 These youngsters might possibly be baby cows, more or less rejected! (6)
OWLETS – A fanciful way of describing baby cows without the abbreviation for circa (more or less rejected).

10 Made a change for B&B to have no role in double bed where sex took place (6)
EDITED – Remove the B’s from two beds and include a two-letter word for sex.  You should not use definition for wordplay.  It is the wrong way around.

11 Debate how cox becomes cow? (8)
EXCHANGE – Which letter do you change?  I think for the cryptic definition to work, the solution would need to end in an S.

12 Is it time to pay for cow? (6)
SUBDUE – Split 3,3 the solution would indicate that fees for a clue membership are payable.

15 American is overwhelmed by serenade after note distorting (8)
MISUSING – A two-letter word for American inside (overwhelmed by) a four-letter word meaning to serenade all after a two-letter word for a note of the musical scale.

16 Inspired to butcher fatted calf with no limits to cost (8)
AFFLATED – An anagram (to butcher) of FATTED CALF after removing the outer letters (limits) of cost.

19 Pass around large cup to get money for trick (6)
DIDDLE – A three-letter word meaning to pass away around a two-letter description of a large bra size and the letter representing pounds sterling (money).

21 Annoy Verdi with this answer (5,3)
DRIVE MAD – A reverse anagram clue where the solution read as a clue in its own right might give VERDI as its solution.

22 Look for organ inside small church (6)
SEARCH – The organ of hearing inside the abbreviations for small and church.

24 Incentive for bull chasing vehicle (6)
CARROT – A three-letter word for bull or nonsense after (chasing) a three-letter word for a type of vehicle.  Another use for definition for wordplay.

25 Jersey cow heading a daring stampede (8)
CARDIGAN – The initial letter (heading) of cow followed by an anagram (stampede) of A DARING.  To indicate the initial letter you need cow’s heading.  As mentioned, the solution is not a jersey.

26 See 6

27 Compensates for changes (9)
REDRESSES – Double definition.


1 Longed for rebel depicted in poster (5)
ACHED – The name of the South American rebel leader inside a two-letter abbreviation for advertisement (poster).

2 Met at Ted’s capturing bull, after students ran away (7)
ABUTTED – The AT TED from the clue includes the BULL from the clue without the abbreviations for students.

3 Perceived as a load of bull, so it was said (5)
HEARD– A homophone of herd (a load of bull).  For the clue to work, it would need to be a load of bulls.

4 Solution suggests hesitancy at the end of second year of presidency! (7)
MIDTERM – Split the solution 3-4 and, as a clue, it would give ER (hesitancy).

5 Mad Cow Disease she so oddly displayed (9)
SHOWCASED -An anagram (mad) of COW and the odd letters (oddly) in “disease she so” (ignoring the spaces) DSAEHS.

6 Songs in the Bull’s Head before a joyful finale with youths (7)
BALLADS – The initial letter (head) of bull followed by the A from the clue, the letter (finale) of joyful and a four-letter word for youths.  Try to avoid using similar wordplay indicators such as head / heading.

7 Not a lot can go with appearance of stop sign (9)
OCTAGONAL – An anagram (not) of A LOT CAN GO.  Not is not a valid anagram indicator as far as I am concerned.  The Chambers’ lists are not canonical (unlike the dictionary entries) and should be used with discretion.

13 Intent on taking back last four of panatelas in the shop window (2,3,4)
UP FOR SALE – A phrase (2,3) meaning intent on followed by a reversal (taking back) the last four letters of panetelas.

14 He makes judgement that, at this time in Boston, madcap is on a hill (9)
ESTIMATOR – The abbreviation for Eastern Standard Time (this time in Boston) followed by a contraction meaning Madcap (as the setter) the A from the clue and a three-letter word for a hill.  Madcap in this clue must be capitalised for it to work.

17 Hare about ’til the cows come home; start to look extremely tired (7)
LEVERET – The initial letters (start) of the final three words of the clue around (about) a four-letter word meaning till the cows come home.  There are many things wrong about this clue.  Primarily, it needs to be starts to… for three initial letters, secondly, the about as a charade indicator is so far removed from the letter to be put around the other parts of the wordplay it is verging on the unfair.

18 Gathered to chew cud indeed (7)
DEDUCED – An anagram (to chew) of CUD in DEED.  Some editors will not allow unclued lift and separate clues.

20 Places to record and reportedly eye up where cows’ product is processed (7)
DIARIES – A homophone (reportedly) of EYE is moved upwards in the place where cows’ milk is processed.

22 Minister to diocese where heartless priest is installed (5)
SERVE – A three-letter word for diocese includes (is installed) a thee-letter abbreviation for a reverend (priest) without the middle letter (heartless).

23 Seizes bull in a China shop initially (5)
CLAWS – A three-letter word for a bull (as an edict) in the initial letters of China shop.

32 comments on “Rookie Corner 395

  1. Not an easy solve by any means but we did eventually get a full grid although a few pieces of parsing still to sort.
    Lots of clever use of the theme which we did appreciate.
    Thanks Madcap.

  2. Welcome back to Rookie Corner, Madcap. This was a challenging but much more accessible puzzle than your first offering. It’s good to see your inventiveness with some clues, such as 8a, which added interest to the solve. However you do have a few “War and Peace” clues which go on for ever. Such wordy clues are difficult for a setter to keep under control while balancing the needs of accurate wordplay and smooth surfaces.

    Some points of detail:
    1a – “Dolce &” is padding as it is not part of the hidden word fodder. It might be argued that this is a marginal case as “Dolce & Gabbana” could perhaps be considered as a single word.
    6a/26a – “and” is unnecessary.
    9a – I can’t parse my answer.
    25a – I am not sure if “cow heading” is acceptable or if it needs to be “cow’s heading”. Let’s see what Prolixic thinks.
    2d – the ‘s is surface padding.
    3d – the definition for the homophone of the answer should be “load of bulls”, which would of course ruin the surface.
    7d – “not” is not an adequate anagram indicator in my book.
    14d – the self-reference should be capitalised (unless you had chosen to make your pseudonym all lower case).
    17d – “start” should be “starts” as three words are involved.

    Although that is quite a long list, I think this simply highlights that you just need a bit more attention to detail to build on your fundamentally sound setting skills. If you find you have a clue which is nearly but not quite right, it can be better to rewrite it completely rather than try to tweak it.

    Generally my pick of the clues were the shorter ones, and my podium comprises 8a, 22a & 24a.

    Well done and thank you, Madcap. I am looking forward to your next submission. Thanks too in advance to Prolixic.

    1. 9a – what might baby cows be called (rather whimsically)? Then, delete the common abbreviation for “more or less”/about. I need crossers for this one – don’t think it would be possible to ‘cold solve’! – but the PDM raised a chuckle

    2. The anagram indicators list in the 12th edition of the BRB seems to think ‘not’ is an adequate anagram indicator!

      1. Even so, I am not convinced by it. Incidentally I can’t find a list of anagram indicators in my BRB. This is the revised 13th edition, which I think is the current one.

        1. The Word Lover’s Miscellany and Wordgames Companion appears to be only found in the 12th Edition of the BRB, which is a shame as it is both useful and interesting

          1. It’s listed in the Chambers Crossword Dictionary (4th ed) – so definitely OK (rules is rules, right?) but I do agree with RD it doesn’t really seem adequate. “A lot can go wrong” might have been better?

            1. ‘Not’ is an anagram indicator in The Chambers Complete Crossword Companion (probably the same list as in a previous BRB), but I’ve always wondered how it could work. I suspect a few of the indicators have been taken out of context from a puzzle and added to the list anyway.
              ‘Doubtful’ might have been a better fit. I liked that clue in particular for the clever definition.

  3. Not sure about passing my ‘breakfast cereal’ test, but I’d finished the cereal and a large mug of tea, and Mr CS had done the washing up before I got to the end of this crossword

    I quite enjoyed the brain exercise and definitely don’t have as many quibbles as Rabbit Dave. I have one clue I still can’t parse so will be pleased to learn from Prolixic how it works You will get some people who, like me, question whether a 25a is a jersey, but that’s a minor point ;)

    Thanks Madcap and in advance to Prolixic

    1. 25a made me raise my eyebrows as well, CS. I guess we can be fairly certain of the sex of our setter!

  4. Thanks Madcap, a challenging and enjoyable puzzle. I think RD has already outlined all the ‘issues’ above.

    Personally I like long clues *if* they tell a coherent story (not just a string of random bits of wordplay) but more often than not they can get out of control – I think most of yours are in the ‘coherent’ camp, thankfully, but there are perhaps a couple that seem overly convoluted (or maybe it’s just that there are a lot of them so they become a little exhausting!)

    That said, I do agree with RD that your best clues are the shorter ones – 12a my fave, also 27a, 22a, 24a. (21a could’ve been top, but I think only needs “Annoy Verdi?”)

    Thanks again!

  5. There are some inventive and chuckle-inducing clues here – thanks Madcap.
    I thought that the surfaces were pretty good on the whole with the possible exception of 14d.
    My ticks went to 9a, 12a, 21a and 4d.

  6. There was a lot more to enjoy apart from the stop sign clue I mentioned above – eg the disguised definition for 8a – probably a bit too racy in the surface for the Telegraph though! It maybe could have dropped ‘introduce’ for a colon instead, and there was occasional extraneous wording elsewhere that could have been culled or recast. Part of that may have been the need to keep clues thematic, which makes things a lot tougher for the setter.
    14d wouldn’t have worked this time next week, if I understand it correctly, so might need to be changed if republished. I’m sure you know that Madcap!
    Thanks for an entertaining puzzle.

  7. Welcome back, Madcap.

    I found the bottom half of the puzzle much easier than the top half – in fact without electronic assistance I wouldn’t have filled the grid- but overall it was certainly more accessible than last time.

    I thought that to include so many themed references was extremely clever, but on occasions I felt that the quality of the clues suffered from doing so. My quibbles are almost identical to those raised by RD, but I would also add that I was disappointed to see “definition for wordplay” constructions in 10a and 24a and wrongly showing “madcap” in 14d in lower case was also reminiscent of your previous puzzle.

    I’m firmly with RD rather than Fez when it comes to excessively wordy clues, I strongly believe that aspiring setters should aim for brevity wherever possible rather than want to “tell a story”, a) it’s good discipline for a compiler to have self-imposed limits and b) it’s easily overlooked that publications in which one’s puzzles may eventually appear often have a finite amount of print space available. Of course some believe in an “anything goes” attitude, but from personal experience I don’t think that is the way to proceed.

    Lots of inventive wordplay in evidence, my ticks went to 22a and 22d.

    Many thanks, Madcap.

    1. The key word there is “excessively” – where I think we’d be in agreement! In 1a for example “perceived as” could be cut, but also in 21a, even though it’s only 5 words, “with this answer” seems excessive to me. For me 9a and 17d, both fairly long, are justified, whilst 10a has the makings of a good idea but does read as excessive. But it’s not word-count per se … I do agree we should “aim for brevity wherever possible” but there can be a lot of fun in long clues – although perhaps a bit like cryptic definitions or Spoonerisms, they really have to be very good to work! Also perhaps one to add to the checklist alongside wordplay types – ie make sure there aren’t too many of this type of clue, no matter how good/clever they are.

      1. I used to share your opinion (that there’s nothing wrong in one or two long clues in a puzzle) and indeed, in my debut puzzle in Rookie Corner I included quite a few myself (!), but over time I’ve come to learn that many solvers find wordiness tedious (see David Reid’s comment below) and I began to feel such clues often smacked of self-indulgence or lazy clueing on the part of the setter. When becoming a published setter, I vowed never to exceed an absolute maximum of 12 words per clue and I’ve found that to be a good discipline that has served me well. Every setter is different, of course, but I’m convinced that it pays to follow some sort of personal guidelines like that otherwise the “anything goes” philosophy can become a hard mindset to give up.

  8. While I recognise a lot of cleverness at work here, this was beyond my pay grade when it came to solving. 8a was extremely clever and 12a my favourite. But I have to say, I tired of both the theme and wordiness. Like Silvanus, I thought the theme became contrived in parts and, while I share Fez’s enjoyment of the occasional wordy clue where a really good surface requires it, this puzzle was wordy throughout. I count 29 clues and 255 words, an average of almost 8.8 words per clue. There is no “rule” that forbids this, but I found it fatiguing and lost interest (resorting to counting words instead!). Sorry.
    Having said that, I can see plenty of evidence of your creativeness and ingenuity. But for your next offering, I would personally far rather see a “normal” and concise puzzle.

    1. You’ve abandoned your usual alias which has sent you into moderation. Both aliases will work from now on.

        1. Turn-up: Dr Diva finally revealed! That’s introduced _____ ____ (5,4) (down clue)

          (Hope Prolixic doesn’t review this too!)

  9. Managed the bottom half of this in the wee small hours but have yet to make much headway further north. Will set the old grey matter to the task this afternoon!

    1. Sorry to report that the old grey matter had to resort to using a few reveals to cross the finish line. Our blog experts have already covered the issues in this one but I’d just like to add that I didn’t really find much to enjoy in it, which is surely one of the most important aspects of a puzzle. Apologies, Madcap, I can certainly appreciate your talent.

  10. This is the second Rookie puzzle I have attempted and I really enjoyed doing so, even though it was a DNF. I found it hard but very enjoyable.

    I thought 8A and 25A were brilliant, although I assumed the “daring stampede” was the charge of the light brigade, which was led by Lord Cardigan.

    I read the answer to 11A as a homophone of “x change”.

    I had issues with quite a few clues, most of which have already been discussed. I have never heard of 16A and it does not appear in my (online) dictionary. I have never seen anything like the structure of 21A before. 14D completely passed me by and I did not notice madcap was the name of the setter. Again this approach was new to me. 18D just seems completely wrong.

    Many thanks to Madcap and Prolixic.

    P.S. The answer given for 8A has gained an S.

  11. Thanks to Prolixic for his sage comments again. I agree the length of clues is for the setter’s style, but the number of comments suggest it is a problem for solvers that you might give thought to, Madcap.
    I had a thought about 3 down – could the wordplay read “a load of bulls***” and still be valid, with the *** merely a punctuation distraction (that we habitually ignore)? Not sure.

    1. Well, I like it DD, very clever :-) not sure about the Telegraph, but wouldn’t be out of place in the Graun

  12. Many thanks for review Prolixic. Personally (of course) I’m pleased that clue length is seen as “setter’s style” but I do agree with Silvanus, Dr Diva and others that they must be used sparingly – however clever, and however much ‘self-indulgent’ fun for the setter, the clear feedback is that solvers don’t generally warm to long clues unless they are particularly good. (I’m not going to go so far as to impose a strict limit on my own clues – sorry Silvanus, jane et al – but I am setting a limit on both the number of long clues in any puzzle and the overall average clue length!)

  13. Very late to the party (as we were away) but really enjoyed completing this puzzle today. Many thanks Madcap. We look forward to your next one.

Comments are closed.